What is the RIGHT Amount of Help From Paraprofessionals?

What is the RIGHT Amount of Help From Paraprofessionals?


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As parents, we want our children to be safe, happy, and learning at school. When that’s not happening many parents see the solution is to have a 1:1 paraprofessional for their child.

There are 3 common mistakes that can be made when deciding if a paraprofessional is needed and if so, what kind of support can be helpful.

When parents are demanding to have a 1:1 paraprofessional for their child, I ask them to take a step back and be open to thinking about other ways to resolve the situation at school.

If we get stuck on only wanting a 1:1 paraprofessional, we are only looking at the tip of the iceberg. We need to understand what’s lies below. It’s important to realize the underlying need that we are really trying to have met.

For example, I once had a parent tell me her son needed a full time 1:1 paraprofessional. I asked her what she wanted the para to help her son with. After a few minutes of conversation she said the thing she was most worried about was her son getting through the opening in the playground fence and running off.

Now, as a mom I could certainly identify with the fear of parents, of someone not watching my child close enough and having him take off. We talked about what could be done to make the playground safer – talk to principal about having the maintenance department enclose the opening in the fence, having an extra adult on playground duty. She decided to talk to the principal and see what could be done about the opening.

Her tip of the iceberg was she wanted her son to have a full time 1:1 paraprofessional. Once we talked more we identified her underlying fear, she was scared about her son leaving the school grounds. The need was for her son to be safe when outside for recess.

Yes, having a 1:1 paraprofessional on the playground just to watch her son might be one possible solution. But you would want to make sure it was a para that could run fast and intercept her son before he slid through the opening in the playground fence. She and the principal were able to sit down and talk about the safety issue and it was resolved with the closing of the playground fence.

Just be aware that there may be another way for your child to be safe, happy, and learning at school.

I want you to avoid asking for a paraprofessional to be your child’s shadow. This can be one of those situations when you have to be careful what you ask for. Generally, I suggest a paraprofessionals be assigned to a teacher’s classroom, not to an individual student. Then the para will know she has permission to help others in the class and she or he doesn’t just have to be your child’s constant shadow.

We know the reason many people decide to be paraprofessionals is because they are good working with students and they have this great desire to be there to help them. However, when a paraprofessional hovers too much over a student there can be unintended consequences.

When we or a paraprofessional are constantly doing things for our child it doesn’t give him/her any power to show what they’ve learned and what they can do. Too much help can actually be harmful for your child.

Less can be more. Make sure your child is given some space and allow them to make mistakes and fail sometimes. That is how he/she will learn. That’s how he/she can develop their self-concept, knowing they can try things on their own, it might not work out the first time, but they can try again.

Another unintended consequence of a paraprofessional always being beside a student, is it hampers the student from forming friendships. I loved seeing this recent Facebook post from a mom from I’ve worked with in the past, “Jesse has his field trip today and he told me he is glad I am not going because he has plans to hang with a couple of buddies and I would just be in the way and not ‘get’ their jokes! So not feeling like the ‘cool’ mom yet ecstatic he said this!”

There are some students that have significant needs and may need extra support throughout the day. What I want us to do, is not assume that extra support always has to come from a paraprofessional.


When teachers use researched-based strategies the need for paraprofessional support decreases. Examples of these strategies are Co-teaching, where special ed. teacher and general ed classroom teacher work together in the classroom. When teachers use the principles of Universal Design for Learning or Differentiated Instruction that creates success for all the students in the class. When teachers use cooperative learning groups that is a way for students to receive natural supports from their peers.

We can also look to an underutilized support – other students! Kids can have so many more good ideas than we do as adults. We need to give students a chance to brainstorm solutions of how their fellow classmate can be more successful at school.


If you have questions that you’ve been wanting to ask an advocate, post them on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/VisionsandVoicesTogether and I’ll answer your question! LIKE the page to be notified when we go live! Please SHARE the page with everyone you know who is in need of an advocate.

Tune in next Thursday evening, February 9th at 7:00pm Mountain Time for my next Art of Advocacy Facebook live show! We’ll continue our conversation about ways a paraprofessional can be helpful for your child. We’ll be looking at how to fade prompts and how to ask for needed para support for your child to be written in his/her IEP.

And remember, I’m also available for free 30 minute phone consultation.  Just email me at Charmaine@cspeda.com” target=”_blank” class=”validating” style=”color: rgb(119, 169, 175);”>Charmaine@cspeda.com and we’ll set up a time to talk.

Take care,

P.S. Dr. Julie Causton, from Syracuse University will be on our Feb. 23rd Facebook Live show.  We’ll also have a giveaway of her book, The Paraprofessional’s Handbook for Effective Support in Inclusive Classrooms. 

Let’s Stay Connected!
charmaine@cspeda.com        208.340.5874        www.cspeda.com

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